A talk with the artist: Jaffa Theater

12 Jul

As part of 2013 edition we have conducted brief interviews with our guest artists to find out more about their works, their expectations and their feelings as Mediterranean artists.


We are discussing with Lily Ovadiah, member of the Jaffa Theater – The Arab-Hebrew Theatre Center that will present Eyes a show created in collaboration with the Elmina Theater at Between the Seas 2013.

An interview by Flavia Zaganelli

Tell us more about the performance you are bringing at Between the Seas Festival. How was it created? What inspired it?

Jaffa Theatre is a theatre that deals with the question of meetings between the Jewish culture and the Arab culture. The idea is to meet “the other” through culture. Mahmoud Darwish is the most popular poet among the Palestinians. The Israeli Jews don’t know his poetry; they only know that he was a member in the P.L.O. 15 years ago, one of his poems was in the high schools literature program. But later on the right wing government canceled it. We discovered that Darwish was a wonderful poet. (He died 7 years ago), He wrote beautiful love poems, and poems that reflect the existence of the Arabs in Israel. He had interesting relations with Israelis and was inspired by Israeli writers. He himself said that he is writing the same things like the Jewish poet Yehuda Amichai but from a different narrative. Our goal was to let the Israelis meet his poems and through that to be more understanding to the Palestinians.

What led you to apply to BTS? What do you expect from the festival?                

The Festival is of primary interest to Jaffa Theatre as a theatre committed to promoting mutual understanding and cultural exchange. The festival will be an opportunity for the Jaffa Theatre to network in order to encourage future artistic collaborations between both NYC-based and Mediterranean-based artists.

To the extent that your performance is connected to the Middle Eastern culture and politics with all its peculiarities and problems, how do you expect the NY audience will react to it?

We feel it’s important for Americans to see firsthand that there are points of cooperation in the arts between Palestinians and Jews in Israel. We don’t all try to occupy and fight each other. The theatre has been functioning for almost 20 years. Also, it will surprise many to know that the Theatre gets some funding from the government, that on the one hand has kept high school books from including Darwish’s poetry but on the other supports a theatre that produces such a powerful presentation of his art.

What does Mediterranean identity mean to you? What does it mean to you to perform in a pan-Mediterranean context?                                                                

We were born in the Mediterranean and we live there. That is our childhood memories and our daily life. My father was born in Greece, I lived among people that spoke Spanish, French, Arabic and Hebrew. Our Music is a mixture of all these cultures.

Eyes will take place at Between the Seas on Saturday 7/27 at 2pm and Sunday 7/28 at 8.30pm. Here you can purchase your ticket. 


A talk with the artist: Pedro Goucha Gomes

9 Jul




As part of 2013 edition we have conducted brief interviews with our guest artists to find out more about their works, their expectations and their feelings as Mediterranean artists.Image

Pedro Goucha Gomes is a dancer and choreographer from Portugal, he will be performing his new work Amongst Millions at Between the Seas 2013. 

An interview by Flavia Zaganelli

Tell us more about the performance you are bringing at Between the Seas Festival. How was it created? What inspired it?

We live in a world where dishonesty and injustice are more common than potable water. I was driven by my pre-historical body’s profound need to expose its feelings towards this sad state of affaires. Amongst Millions was, both in its conception and in its result, a break from my previous work. There is nothing save about this piece. I am absolutely defenseless.

What led you to apply to BtS? What do you expect from the Festival?

What triggered my interest to contribute with a choreography to the Between the Seas Festival is its focus on the Mediterranean region as well as its interest in works inspired by life and engaged in searching for new aesthetics.

The Mediterranean region is currently at a turning point of its history. While winds of change and hope seem to be sweeping across North Africa, Southern Europe is living through an economic and social crisis that my generation could not have imagined to witness. I believe that these two contrasting dynamics in opposite shores of the Mediterranean Sea not only bring a great scope of dramatic possibilities to the Between the Seas Festival but also greatly enhances its relevance as a contemporary performing arts festival. I see the Between the Seas Festival as a wonderful platform to bring to New York City the voice of artists that are living these dramatic transformations in first hand.

Since your performance is connected to the European culture and politics with all its peculiarities and problems, how do you expect the NY audience will react to it?

I am very curious to hear what the NY audience will say. Since they have been exposed to virtually everything, I guess their insight will help me put into perspective the work I have done.

What is the situation of cultural production in Europe and in your country right now?

Although I am Portuguese I am currently living in the Netherlands. One of the reasons for this is because there is hardly any support for dance in Portugal.

Pedro G. Gomes will performing at Between the Seas on Tuesday 7/23 at 7pm and Thursday 7/25 at 9.30. Here you can purchase your ticket.

A Med-filled February in the City

2 Feb

This February seems to be filled with exciting Med-related events in New York City- and we’ll try to make it to all of them!

– This weekend at HERE Arts Center’s Culturemart 2012, resident artist Betty Shamieh presents her work The Strangest, inspired by the figure of the Arab in Camus’ novel The Stranger. Visit the show’s page for more info
– Irondale Center with Scenes (Lyon) present An Arab in my Mirror, an Egyptian-French collaboration that “paints an intimate picture of the different aspects of terrorism and the relationships formed between historic events such as the Algerian war and the Egyptian revolution through the eyes of the many, everyday voices that contribute to the common quest for answers and understanding”. It runs until February 11th.

From Irondale's performance Arab in my Mirror

-At Pace University, the wonderful Sephardic singer Yasmine Levy with Turkish percussionist Omar Faruk Tekbilek for only one concert at the Shimmel Center on February 16th. Click here for more information.

Yasmine Levy

And as if all this wasn’t enough, let’s not forget City Center’s flamenco festival starting March 1st.

Manama, Bahrain to host the 2nd Forum on Arab Festivals

24 Jan

The 2nd forum on Arab Festivals will take place on March 1st and 2nd 2012 in Bahrain and it looks like a really interesting and exciting event. Below is their official call for participants – while there is not a website for the event yet, information can be obtained by email to Khadijah Lakkis Forum Executive Director Lakkis2009@gmail.com.

Call for Participants.

The Second Forum on Festivals in the Arab Countries is the only state-level Arab Festival event hosted in the Arab region. With a galaxy of experts in various fields and masters of great wisdom, this Festival Forum is another highlight of the festivals in the Arab countries.
In its second version, this festival forum is organized by the Ministry of Culture in the Kingdom of Bahrain, in coordination with the Arab Administrative Development Organization , to celebrate Manama, the Arab Capital Culture of 2012. This forum is committing itself to both innovation and originality as successfully held in its first version in Beirut in December 2009.
Over two days, a bunch of festival presidents, organizers, managers, and art directors will gather to exchange information and expertise about different issues of festivals exploring the way to improve and upgrade the levels of festivals in the Arab countries.
The sessions of this forum are comprised into a welcome/opening address, two keynote sessions, and five regular sessions presenting and debating the latest thinking and festival business insights in addition to reviewing the key achievements and challenges facing festivals nowadays. Also, there will be a further focus on the most important issues in the festival industry, plus extended and expanded networking opportunities for neighboring countries to share knowledge and update the quality of their festivals to include all the family. This forum ends up with a panel discussion and recommendations session.
We believe that the 2nd Festival Forum is not only a gathering for festival organizers, artists, even governmental officials, enterprisers, and celebrities, but will become one of important means for intercultural communication as well.
In view of this, we sincerely invite you to attend this 2012 Forum of Festivals in Manama on March 1st & 2nd. During this event, and exclusively for this year, there will be the opening of the Annual Spring of Culture Festival in Manama on March 1st so all attendees will have the chance to enjoy an array of cultural and artistic events along with the scheduled sessions.

Review of Alexis, a Greek tragedy

9 Jan

Alexis, A Greek Tragedy, a new production by the Italian group MOTUS presented in Under The Radar Festival,is in many ways a theatrical essay on the character of Antigone and its projection into contemporary questions of social dissent. Its premise is simple: who is Antigone today? As we are told in the play the group Motus conducted workshops exploring that question when they heard of the shooting of 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos by the police and the subsequent widespread rioting in the centre of Athens in 2008. The group set on a trip to Greece in search of Antigone and collecting information on the events. This quest fed into their workshop process and the result was the creation of Alexis: a documentary theater piece including footage of the riots and the neighborhood of Exarchia (where the shooting happened) interviews with residents and intellectuals of the area, personal thoughts of the group’s journey, rehearsals of scenes from the tragedy interspersed with comments in the artistic process itself, explorations on how facts from the actual events can influence the performance of Antigone. According to its creators, Alexis is a call to action. Oddly, the performance (created in 2010) feels already outdated and surpassed by the reality outside the theater hall: the massive worldwide protest movement makes Alexis seem like a thing of the past (slightly reminiscent of those 1970s experiments at getting the bourgeois audiences out of their comfy seats, only the bourgeoisie has now become the 99%) where action is talked about as a concept while theatrical action itself is absent.

Tragic action-social action

Antigone is focused around the burial of Polynices’ corpse. The statesman Creon has prohibited the burial on the grounds that Polynices is an enemy of the state and Antigone defies his decree and buries her brother on the grounds of familial and religious duty. The dead body and the act of burial trigger a conflict between different sets of responsibilities (to the family and to the state) that a citizen carries in a democracy. In the course of the play the two poles of the conflict (Antigone, Creon) become increasingly fixated in their viewpoints bringing about equally personal and civic catastrophe. In between those two extremes there is a physically present chorus of elderly who maintains allegiance to Creon while trying to inspire some moderation in him, as well as an invisible implied chorus, the body of citizens, who, we are told, support Antigone in her action but are too afraid to speak up.

One would expect that a contemporary attempt to grapple with the figure of Antigone – given especially her popularity in explorations of civic disobedience- would thoroughly dig into the dynamics of the conflict between her and Creon, the significance of the tragic elements (i.e. tragic action, chorus) and the play’s structure (how the characters shift in the course of the play) beyond the easy and overused binary symbolism Antigone=resistance/ Creon=tyranny. It becomes therefore shockingly surprising to see how little thought and exploration of the actual tragedy has gone into Alexis: beyond the premise “who is Antigone today” and few text excerpts, there’s really not any committed engagement with the tragedy itself,its ideas, questions, characters or dramatic structure. As a result, the investigation of who Antigone might be today becomes very problematic insofar as the play limits its interpretation of the tragic character of Antigone to a generic and generalized symbol of resistance stripped of any context. Questions of allegiance and responsibility to civic and private obligations, as well as the character traits that make the tragic heroes hold on to their beliefs beyond self-doubt, give way in Alexis to a romanticized/idealized depiction of dissent, seen as a virtue in and of itself, and an a priori demonization of the state as a mechanism of oppression. What in the tragedy is structural (the state becomes increasingly repressive) in Alexis is essentialized (the state is by definition repressive). In the Greek context where Motus’ production is set, both notions of repression and dissent are a lot more complicated as the former is usually accompanied by extreme lawlessness while the latter, when it is not pure state-sponsored violence, is often lacking in ideological foundation.

With the same ease that the play appropriates Antigone as an unproblematic symbol of resistance, it uses the dead body of Alexis Grigoropoulos as a “stand-in” for the dead body of Polynices. A parallel is drawn between Creon’s proclamation that the warrior’s body is to be left unburied “a feast to the wild birds” and the Greek police’s reaction of shooting and then abandoning the boy’s body in Exarchia square. Here the performance misses a very crucial point: Polynices’ dead body is heavy with meaning: he is a disenfranchised heir to the throne, who came back to claim his rights and now he is proclaimed an enemy of the city; he is a brother, a citizen and a leader and the sum of these conflictual roles and responsibilities render his burial a crucial political issue (in Greek tragedy the personal and the political are always conflated). By contrast, what was tragic about the shooting of Alexis Grigoropoulos was the complete lack of meaning. The shooting was pure accident – the term accident here used in fully existential terms to denote a life being lost at the flip of a coin: the boy, a middle class teenager from the suburbs of Athens who was in that evening hanging out with his friends in Exarchia square, provoked the police, an exchange of insults ensued, the police car followed the kids who threw some empty cans at them, the policeman came out, fired and shot the kid dead. It is precisely the complete accidentality of the event (so reminiscent of Camus’ Meursault shooting at the Arab in The Stranger), the ultimate absence of any serious reason, motivation, meaning, politics or ideology behind this clash between citizen and authority, that caused an unprecedented rioting in the city: it was as if the shooting signaled the eruption of bottled feelings of lawlessness, lack of governance, meaninglessness experienced among Greeks for years, generalized feelings that actions don’t matter and don’t make a difference because no one is ever held accountable even if a life gets lost so absurdly in the middle of the street. The riots that erupted were riots of despair, anger and not protests of change, destructive and hopeless. This in fact was more of an anti-tragedy, closer to the world of Camus’ where meaning is lost, than to the world of tragedy’s multiple negotiations of meanings and significations that are equally valid for their defenders and are worth dying for.

This is why Motus’ exploration of who Antigone is does not go too far (despite rather shallow attempts such as “Antigone is the protesters” or “Antigone is the Exarchia square that still resists”): in forcing their own rather narrow meaning and oversimplified binaries (protesters vs.state) onto reality the performance misses the far more rich and productive complexity of the actual social conflict. A good look into the reality (not only of Greece but anywhere in the world where indignation boils) will reveal the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints, interests and motivations of protesting, the messy, unclassifiable and conflictual collective as all collectives are in such moments of profound social change. Such a look might have engaged the group into a deeper exploration into finding what are the intricate relations between leader and led that tragedy may be able to illuminate in the dialectic relationship between heroes and hero and chorus. Not doing so and imposing premeditated meanings on such a crucial historical moment instead, is, as one reviewer rightly notes,an indication of irresponsibility. While Alexis raises interesting and provocative questions, it seems that the performance as a whole misses the opportunity, artistic and intellectual, to go deeper into the intersections between tragedy and life.

Opportunities for artists

7 Dec

Exciting opportunities coming up for artists the world over!

– The Istanbul Theater Festival is having an open call for applications for their 2012 edition. The deadline is December 30th 2011 and here’s the link to more details.

-The Young Arab Theater Fund offers grants under its “cultural spaces” category which aims at ensuring the sustainability of existing and emerging cultural spaces in the Arab region and encouraging the establishment of new ones by offering structural and operational support. The deadline is January 15th 2012. More information here

– The Internationalists, an interesting collective of directors working all over the world, are launching their second annual playwriting contest (deadline January 13th 2012). The winning playwright will receive readings of his/her play in various cities in the world. Information and an online submission form is available here.

Looking for Technical Production Staff

26 Jun

Between the Seas festival is looking for designers and lighting/sound technicians to work as technical production staff during the festival (August 29th to Sept. 4th 2011). While this is a non-paid position, it is a great opportunity to meet and work with NY and international artists and get hands on experience in a demanding professional performance setting. We are looking for people who will be interested in our mission and enthusiastic to support us in our inaugurate edition and with whom we can build long-term collaborations.

We need:
– 2 lighting designers/board operators, that will work closely with the invited companies, assist with their lighting needs and operate the lighting board during the shows. Experience in design and previous work in a festival setting is highly desirable.
-2 sound board operators to work closely with the performers and musicians, help with all their sound needs and operate the board during shows. Experience working with concert artists is required.
-2 technical directors to overview all production needs and work and be the point of contact between artists, technical staff and the festival organizers. The position is ideal for someone with enough technical experience who wants to take the next step into technical direction.

The successful candidates will be resourceful, able to think quickly and come up with ideas and solutions and work within the time and technical restrictions of a festival setting.
For theater technical specifications please visit: http://www.thewildproject.com/rentals/index.shtml
For more information and to submit a brief cover letter and resume please email lesmanouchestheatre@gmail.com
To find out about the festival visit http://www.betweentheseas.org